A fresh Constitutional Court challenge to ensure the Hawks' independence is almost certain after the National Assembly's approval yesterday of the South African Police Service Amendment Bill.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, or Hawks, was created to replace the Scorpions when it was disbanded.

Last year businessman Hugh Glenister won a ruling in the Constitutional Court that the Hawks were not sufficiently independent from political interference. The court gave Parliament 18 months to rectify the situation and the bill is an attempt to comply.

Introducing the bill in the National Assembly, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa insisted that it would satisfy the court ruling. He said the Constitutional Court had not insisted on absolute independence for the corruption-busting unit, but "adequate" structural and operational independence.

"It is important to reiterate that, contrary to what has been projected by some members of the opposition and certain so-called legal experts, the Constitutional Court in its judgment indicated that the creation of 'a separate crime-fighting unit within the South African Police Service' was not in itself unconstitutional.

"The court also, contrary to what some have inappropriately projected in the public domain, stated that the constitution does not require full independence but, rather adequate levels of structural and operational independence," Mr Mthethwa said

"In defining independence, international standards require political commitment and adequate resources, powers and staffing of the structure or approach."

Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said the bill merely tinkered with the issue of independence and the police portfolio committee had completed a "tick-box exercise" of public hearings and "moved on as though they had never happened".

Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said the bill paid lip service to the people of SA.

African National Congress chairwoman Sindi Chikunga acknowledged there had been a further threat to take the bill to the Constitutional Court. She said the sooner this happened, the better.

hartleyw@bdfm.co.za